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“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” review: Half shell heroes, reinvented


Directed by: Jeff Rowe

Starring: Jackie Chan, Ice Cube, Paul Rudd

For an IP that is almost 40 years old, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are as relevant as ever.

At least once a decade since their creation, the band of brothers has been reintroduced to pop culture through film and television. From the original comics, to the widely popular 80s cartoon and 2012 revival, it is safe to assume that most are already familiar with the green team. In their most recent rendition, the boys are back on the big screen in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem”.

Produced by none other than Seth Rogen, this new film reinvents the turtles as, well, teenagers. For the first time, the brothers are portrayed by actual teens, and have relatable struggles like voice cracks and girl trouble. They love anime and Marvel, and get grounded for staying out late. More than anything, the boys just want to be accepted by their peers: what teenager can’t relate to that?

However, as mutant creatures living in the sewers of New York, they are at a bit of a disposition. This film, unlike other iterations, has the turtles face prejudice within the human world. The story starts out essentially the same: as babies, the turtles soak in that infamous green ooze, and are adopted by anthropomorphic rat-dad Splinter (Jackie Chan). Splinter knows the dangers of humans, and after a scare when the boys are still young, he forbids them from interacting with those above ground. To prevent them from harm, he teaches them the art of ninjutsu (in a hilarious sequence of YouTube videos). As teenagers do, they rebel against their father’s rules; but after a run-in with a human girl, the turtles face a whole new world of trouble.

The clear standout aspect of the film is the animation style. This summer, audiences were especially drawn to animated films, favoring those with unique styles and stories. “Ninja Turtles” has the stylistic prowess of “Spiderman: Across the Spider-Verse”, with the recognizability and nostalgia of “The Super Mario Bros Movie”. True to its adolescent nature, the film utilizes a choppy style reminiscent of stop-motion. Its vibrant colors and messy line work are similar to doodles you may find in a high schooler’s sketchbook. The choppiness adds depth to the action and is best utilized in the film’s riveting fight scenes.

The voice acting is also a huge highlight. For a film with no live-action actors (sans Charlie Schlatter in a clip from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”), there is a stellar cast backing the main group of actors. Ice Cube plays main villain Super Fly, and his goons include the likes of John Cena (opposite Seth Rogen), Post Malone, and Paul Rudd. Ice Cube is the perfect choice for Super Fly, seamlessly switching between comedic and menacing. Maya Rudolph and Ayo Edebiri deliver solid performances as Cynthis Utrom and April O’Neil, and Jackie Chan is simultaneously sweet and hilarious as Splinter. Perhaps most impressive is the teenagers portraying the main mutants. Despite their youth, Nicolas Cantu (Leonardo) and Brady Noon (Raphael) are veteran voice actors, but relative newcomers Micah Abbey (Donatello) and Shamon Brown Jr. (Michelangelo) deliver knockout performances as well. 

The soundtrack enhances “Ninja Turtles” to another level. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails and industry giant Atticus Ross composed the score, adding two more stars to the A-list production team. The partnership manages to combine comic book and childlike qualities with an industrial sound. The accompanying tracks, like  “Puke Girl” and “Murder the Shreks!” are perfect for the streets (and sewers!) of Brooklyn. The soundtrack harkens back to the original days of TMNT, as it features a collection of East Coast hip-hop from the likes of DMX, De La Soul, MF DOOM, and A Tribe Called Quest. Of course, the soundtrack also features Vanilla Ice’s iconic “Ninja Rap”, composed for “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II”. Good luck getting the earworm of a chorus (“Go ninja, go ninja, go!”) out of your head after viewing.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” balances the retro vibes with a story for a new audience. Adolescent issues may be a thing of the past (or future) for many viewers, but its themes of acceptance and belonging are relatable to all. At its core is a crew of filmmakers who deeply love the subject material and handle it with care. In an industry where many IPs are being reinvented for nostalgia points, “Ninja Turtles” sticks the landing with a dedicated style and heartfelt story.

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About the Contributor
Grace Doyle
Grace Doyle, Associate Producer: #THAT
Grace Doyle is a senior 3+1 film, television, and media arts major from Dedham, Massachusetts. She works as production assistant on campus and has interned with 7News WHDH-TV and Tuff Gong Worldwide. She is an Associate Producer on #THAT and has previously served as a Music and Television Beat Reporter for Q30TV.

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